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(Last Updated On: January 14, 2021)

I had these visions of Hawaii before I actually saw it with my own eyes. White sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, floral leis. My first Hawaii experience was quite different, and that’s what is so great about Hawaii; you can make it as adventurous as you want or as relaxing as you want.

So let me tell you about my unglamorous, but dazzling experience.

My boyfriend, Zach, and I begin to depart Punalu’u black sand beach just south of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Fragments of the lava rock crushed down into sand litters our rental car. I begin to dig for a Band-Aid in my bag to re-patch the blister I created earlier in the day hiking down to the Papakolea green sand beach. When I finally look up, we are winding above the coast, leaving the sunshine behind and entering a hazy, dark cloud. The coast disappears as we begin to enter thick rainforest type terrain and the entrance to the national park appears.

We grab our campsite papers from the Lava House and are offered Guava juice mimosas. I walk to the lounge area carefully balancing my mimosa as the large windows catch my eye. Lava fields go on for miles as a plume of smoke consistently, meditatively billows out of the Crater of Kilauea.

We drive to our campsite, our tent set up and ready to go with the rain fly bouncing in the rain as the wind begins to pick up. We don our raincoats, preparing for our first look at active lava. As the sky grows darker, the woods behind our tent begin to glow with reddish hues as the lava begins to present itself. We drive to a trail-head leading up to the museum where everyone clusters each night to see the lava. As we walk to a ridge we can begin to see the variety of reds and oranges in the plume lighting up the area. We walk up to Jaggar museum and patiently wait our turn to trade spots with the hundreds of people with cameras waiting for the perfect shot when the lava splashes into the sky.

We fall asleep in the brisk 50 degree weather having no idea what the next day holds.

We wake up to the sun and sounds of unfamiliar screeching birds. We get into our increasingly dirty rental car with granola bars and extra water and head for Chain of Craters road.

We excitedly begin stopping off at any and every pull off looking at craters, lava fields, lava tubes, volcanoes, until we decide to venture past a pull off and onto the Pu’u Huluhulu   trail. One mile in, the iridescent lava rock pieces turns to layers upon layers of lava. We begin joking that maybe we missed the apocalypse and we are the only ones left on the planet, as it seemed there was no life for miles on end. Two more miles later and we are looking out over volcanoes.

Holei Sea Arch

We climb back in the car, a little more tired, but a little more electrified by this enchanting island as we head toward the end of the Chain of Craters road that has been obstructed by lava. We walk toward the cliff edge and a delicate black rock sea arch comes into view. We chat up the park ranger about the best way to see the ocean lava flow and head out.

We park at the other end of the lava obstructed Chain of Craters road after an hour drive and walk up to the nearest bike rental vender. A couple miles into the four mile bike ride to the ocean flow, we begin to see the red glow of the lava streaming down the mountain side and the billow of smoke coming from the lava making contact with the ocean.

We sit on lava rock as the lava grows brighter with each inch the sun sets.

Photo Credit: Zach Sweeting

Biking back in the dark, we marvel at the intensity of the stars overhead and look forward to waterfalls in Hilo before ending our adventures on the Big Island and starting a new adventure on Maui.


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